Once a player has mastered the basic elements of poker in general, the psychology of the game can then be explored. Reading your opponents is the most important ingredient in successful poker, from a psychological perspective. Any mannerism that allows you to determine any information about an opponent’s hand is called a “tell.” If you look close enough, your opponents’ physical behavior and game plays will give away the strengths and weaknesses of their hands. Learning to read the body language of the players seated at your table is an important element in winning their money.
There are so many different studied, proven, assumed, and learned poker tells that every professional poker player can probably tell you a different one (though they might not want to reveal them). One well-known example of a physical poker tell that you can take to the casino with you is that when a player covers his mouth with his hand, it almost always means he’s bluffing—call him. Like this tell, a majority of tells take place while players are competing for a pot, but other tells can take place when players are not actively in a hand too.
Certain things can be spotted which can be used to sum up a player before you even sit down with him. For instance, well-dressed people (in live poker) tend to be conservative players, while a player with a loosened tie is going to be in the mood to play loose. Additionally, you can read a player based on how they stack their chips. Neat and organized chips usually means a conservative player, while disordered chip stacks usually means a sloppy player. Also, players sporting good luck charms or those who exhibit superstitious behavior tend to be more liberal with their chips than the average player. Go ahead and stereotype your opponents until something proves differently, and make your own observations based on the never ending research you’ll be doing from now on.
Online Poker Tells
You may be surprised to find out that just as there are live poker tells, there are virtual poker tells as well. Observing the activity that goes on within an online poker room can reveal much about the way a game is going to play out. If possible, take a few minutes to watch from the rail and take notes about your soon-to-be opponents. Many online poker software systems allow you to actually save notes on players, which is a very beneficial tool to someone who is interested in studying online poker tells. This is a resource that live poker doesn’t offer, letting you essentially profile every player you come into contact with and then having the information available to you should you encounter them again.
Outside from the way a player plays, a very interesting tell tool in online poker is the chat box. There is actually a set of rules that govern exactly how to use a chat box to your advantage. First of all, don’t chat. Don’t offer your opponents any insight into your mind. Second of all, don’t get caught up reading the chat box. This will distract your game, which is exactly what the chatters are trying to do. What you can do, is learn to read the chat box instinctively without getting sucked in to it.
If you can learn to quickly file chat into one of the three types of chatter, which takes practice, you can actually use the chat box to your advantage without ever actually typing anything in it. The three chat types follow: Normal Chat (every player has their own “normal” chat personality and behavior); Distraction chat (used to keep your attention away from his bluff); and Abnormal chat (out of character for that player). If a player who is typically unkind in the chat box suddenly says something nice, he’s probably hoping you’ll call his bluff. Pay attention to silences in the chat box as well, as a sudden pause in chatting from an otherwise chatty player means he’s actually concentrating on the hand. He likely has a good hand and doesn’t want to miss his opportunity by typing in the chat box.
Reading Your Opponents
Essentially, there are millions of poker tells—too many to list in fact, many of which you’ll have to discover on your own. Don’t fret, though, it is possible to learn to read your opponents and determine their unique tells after only playing a short time with them. Understanding the concept of reading poker players can help you notice certain mannerisms that will eventually ring a bell for you almost instinctively. The art of reading tells can become so perfected that you may realize a player’s hand as if he’d laid his cards down and showed you. Mike Caro, author of Caro’s Book of Poker Tells, suggests that by mastering the science of tells, a conscientious player can at least triple his profits.
First, you must learn the reasons that your opponents do certain things; figure out the motives behind their actions. That way, you’ll be able to figure them out even when you catch a new tell that you haven’t observed before. Most tells occur when a player is trying to hide the strength of his hand, and you may not be surprised to know that the tell will be crafted to convey the opposite of the truth. Therefore, if the hand is good, they’ll try to put on that it’s weak and vice versa. The key is to figure out what they are trying to get you to do, then do the opposite and surprise them. Keep cool and appear disinterested. Caro says, “Concentrate and let the tells talk.” The fact is that no matter how “in control” of his tells a player thinks he is, there are still innate behaviors and character traits that just can’t be concealed entirely. And remember this too, as players are reading you as well.